CHS Speech and Debate Team

ABERDEEN, S.D. – Aberdeen Central High School has been recognized nationally for its Speech and Debate Team, with a No. 8 ranking in the nation from the National Speech and Debate Association

This honor is the latest in a long tradition of success for the CHS Speech and Debate Team, which has built that winning legacy through hard work and dedication of students and coaches. 

“A big thing here is: If you put the work in, you will see the results,” said senior Ashley Crouch. “And I do think that how committed we are to speech and debate does really help how we're performing.” 

Crouch, who has been on the team since her freshman year, said team members are also able to accept criticism and acknowledge that they have more to learn.   

“As a community here, I think that we're really good at the conversation of constructive criticism and really knowing that we all have somewhere to improve, and that we will accept that and learn from it,” she said. “I think that is really important to be successful.”

CHS Speech and Debate has been successful since 2004, when Central won the first state championship. 

Coach Kerry Konda took over as head coach in the 2009-2010 season—and in 2012, the students who started during his first year of teaching won his first state championship. 

Today, CHS Speech and Debate has won a state championship 12 out of the last 13 years. In 2022, Jordan Phillips was crowned a national champion in Extemp Commentary and National Student of the Year Runner-up. Last summer, Abiah George was named National Student of the Year Runner Up, Lily Williams was National Runner Up in Big Question Debate, and Kayla Waltman placed 9th in Informative Speaking. 

“The big thing is we just have that culture built,” Konda said. “I just say I sustained it. And I always tell people the most important people on our team are our freshmen—if we don't have the freshmen coming out, don't have them working hard, and don't have them having success right away, the program will die.” 

Students have also embraced the expectation that they will practice four times a week after school, he said, and that they will participate in two events—an individual event and debate event.

“When you set that bar and they see where the people have been, they rise to the occasion,” Konda said.

Of the coaching staff, all but Konda are former CHS debaters: Levi Margolies, Mariah William, Lauren Wilkinson and volunteer coach Abiah George. 

Konda said one of the benefits from the team is that a lot of them stay friends after high school. For example, recently a former team member, who has since graduated with his doctorate from MIT, sent Konda a photo of himself hiking with four other former CHS debate students. Additional benefits of participating in Speech and Debate include gaining research, writing, public speaking skills, he said, along with delayed gratification. 

“You're going to do a lot of work, and you're probably not going to win right away,” Konda said. “And then you learn from it.” 

For new students interested in Speech and Debate, Crouch offered advice and encouragement. 

“All of the people that are really good and really successful, they were once in your shoes,” she said. 

Crouch was once a freshman who was very nervous to compete. Now, she’s a senior who has placed in the top 60 at the national level. 

“All of those big heroes that you have—they were once new at this too.” 

About the Aberdeen Public School District 

The Aberdeen Public School District provides a comprehensive educational program to approximately 4,200 students in grades K-12, with a mission of empowering all students to succeed in a changing world. Our students receive the knowledge and skills necessary to reach their potential in a global community through high expectations of academic achievement; diverse educational opportunities; and community involvement in a safe, supportive environment. Learn more at